For better or for worse, much of our perception of American truckers has been shaped by Hollywood and song. Let’s take a look.
Truckers on screen: A hall of fame
“Smokey and the Bandit”
Once upon a time in 1977, Burt Reynolds and Sally Field starred in a hit action comedy that inexplicably revolved around bootleg beer, rodeos, and a runaway bride. Mayhem and Jackie Gleason ensue. Burt Reynolds later said that when he read the script, he thought it was terrible. But his agreement to make the movie was a game-changer; he was one of the biggest stars in the world at the time and what was originally seen as a small-budget B-movie became a cult classic. (Fun fact: the film was conceived and directed by Hal Needham, Burt Reynolds’ stuntman and roommate.)
Large Marge from “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”
The entire plot of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, an early Tim Burton gem, could be read as an ode to transportation. Pee-Wee engages in an epic quest to find his lost bicycle and on a dark and foggy night, enters the cab of Large Marge (played by the late Alice Nunn). She tells Pee-Wee a tale dating back ten years, when she saw an accident that sounded “like a garbage truck dropped off the Empire State Building.” The scene only gets more Twilight Zone from there. As Pee-Wee exits the cab, she yells the words that have since haunted many a viewer: “Be sure an’ tell ’em Large Marge sent ya’!”
“Thelma and Louise”
Hollywood depictions of independent female travelers historically have been lacking, but Thelma and Louise, starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis became a feminist icon, partially thanks to its trucker scene. On the road, they encounter a lewd, catcalling trucker. They pull over and demand an apology, but he refuses, at which point they take aim at the fuel tanker he’s driving and cause an epic explosion.
“Over the Top”
Answering America’s call for a movie about truckers and arm wrestling, Sylvester Stallone took what he learned from Rocky and applied it (he co-wrote the screenplay) to 1987’s Over the Top. Stallone plays Lincoln Hawk, a trucker down on his luck who takes on arm wrestling as a noble side hustle to help earn money as he rebuilds his life (and his relationship with his estranged son, naturally). Hawk competes in the World Armwrestling Championship in Las Vegas with the hopes of landing a grand prize of $100,000 and a brand-new semi. He’s an underdog and… well, we won’t spoil the ending.
Other honorable mention trucker flicks to add to your queue
“Convoy” Inspired by a country song, this 1978 movie stars Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, Ernest Borgnine, Franklyn Ajaye and Burt Young, and represents the apex of the CB radio heyday.
“Breaker! Breaker” Chuck Norris couldn’t resist the trucker genre or a plot that revolves around allegations of corruption in the industry.
The strange trend of primate sidekicks
The open road can get lonely, so it only makes sense that there are furry Robins to a trucker’s Batman. Consider the 1978 classic Every Which Way but Loose featuring Clyde, the orangutan, who stars alongside Clint Eastwood. Clyde, played by Manis the orangutan did *not* return for the 1980 sequel, Any Which Way You Can, as he had grown too much between films, according to IMDB. (The part was shared by two different orangutans.)
And don’t forget Bear Bryant, the chimpanzee named for the University of Alabama football coach, who rode along in Greg Evigan’s truck in the 1979 television show BJ and the Bear. The show has since inspired references in everything from Breaking Bad to South Park.
As author Finn Murphy pointed out, many truckers are very well-versed in audiobooks and podcasts, but there’s also a canon of trucker playlists on Spotify. Here are some jams you may want to add to your own playlist:
I’ve Been Everywhere, Johnny Cash
Pickup Truck Cafe, Brenn Hill
Brothers of the Highway, Tony Justice and Aaron Tippin
Truckin’ Grateful Dead
Driving my Life Away, Eddie Rabbits
On the Road Again Willie Nelson
That Ain’t My Truck Rhett Akins
Take Me Home, Country Roads John Denver
Roll on 18 Wheeler Alabama
East Bound and Down Jerry Reed
Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses Kathy Mattea
Asphalt Cowboy Jason Aldean
Big Wheels in the Moonlight Dan Seals
And because we’re on the internet
We leave you with Peanut the Trucker Cat: